Once upon a time, I watched David Lynch’s 3-hour long nightmare Inland Empire while I was heavily sick, and actively hallucinating from an intense fever. While watching that movie, the faces appeared to shift away from the actual heads, and had distortion around the edges. It was horrifying, but I was more than a little let down to see it wasn’t an actual feature of the movie. Heart Chain Kitty’s eShop page makes it look very crisp and clean. Heart Chain Kitty on my switch looks blurry, grainy and quite nightmarish. It gives me a headache, in all honesty. So why do I kind of love it?
I think it comes down to a sense of nostalgia. Growing up on collectathon platformers, you don’t always play the greatest. But, they feel amazing, right? They spark the imagination with these big, sweeping playgrounds of colour and acrobatics and shiny things that make noises. A favourite of mine was Glover. I tried to play that again recently, and goodness me. It sucks so much. But I’m still very much playing — and enjoying — it. That’s more or less where I’m at with Heart Chain Kitty.
Why I brought up Inland Empire, well… That’s about aesthetics, and a conscious decision to envelop less than perfect technical details into a wider artistic vision. I’m going out on a limb and suggesting that maybe, just maybe, this heavily compromised version of Heart Chain Kitty isn’t what the developers truly want you to experience. But, it works. This game, in it’s absolutely mesmerising sidestepping of colour theory is surely boosted by this, creating a dreamlike effect. That effect is intentional, definitely, but the embellishment of the Switch port is most likely not. Much like watching a surreal movie shot on a crappy digital camera while you’re in the midst of a hellish fever state. It’s not ideal, but it works, against all logic and common sense.
The other part, that combines into this strange dreamscape of a game, is the writing. It’s… childlike. Not childish, it very much comes across as something written by a child. It has that certain lilt to it, a naïvete. It’s twee! You are a cat who has cake dreams which are sometimes disappointing. You dream of a world chain, and you swore you did your chores but oh well, need to be dragged over anyway. It’s sweet, simple, and effective. Is it good? Well. I’m really not sure, but I like it a lot. It’s very effective.
And the big surprise? Heart Chain Kitty feels really damn good to play. And I mean — really. It stuns me how nice it is to control Kittey, just the simple act of running about is pleasant. It makes these nightmarish, twee landscapes inviting to be in while they actively work to be a visual assault. Collecting things feels good. Jumping, if a tad floaty, feels good. It’s just fun to play.
There’s a lot of tangents and offshoots to this review because honestly? I have no idea what to make of this game. It is hideous, saccharine, headache inducing. It is fun, twee, nostalgic, and full of heart. It sucks, it’s great. I admire it, I never want to play it again, but I had to finish it, and I absolutely don’t regret doing so.
Heart Chain Kitty is available on Nintendo Switch and PC.